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TV Waffle: Nick's 2013 TV discoveries

Nick Sauer looks back at his favorite TV discoveries of 2013.

Rupert Pupkin Speaks is a blog which, as the site says, is about keeping older films in the public consciousness.  It's a cool blog if you are interested in learning about good older, but largely forgotten, films. I discovered the site last year myself and, in what looks to be an annual tradition, it has just had a bunch of articles posted by various contributors about their favorite film discoveries of 2013. So, having no shame whatsoever, I decided it would be fun to do the same thing for my television viewing.

The Americans
My wife has a pretty good read with regards to what works for me as far as TV series go. In the past she has gotten me into both Shameless and the exceptional, especially for a network show, Person of Interest. To be honest, being a child of the eighties I did have some interest in this, even without the monsters or spaceships that I generally require. The Americans takes place in 1981, shortly after Ronald Reagan has assumed the Presidency. The story is about a couple of KGB agents deeply buried in American society as a normal middle class family. They even have two children who know nothing about their parents' true occupation. The situation's normal intensity is heightened by the recent escalation of the cold war conflict by the new administration. Presenting things from a largely Soviet perspective puts an even more surreal spin on the proceedings.

Black Mirror
I believe this one got recommended to me by Terry Frost over at the Martian Drive-In and Paleo-Cinema podcasts. I'm a huge fan of anthology series in general, but the format has been largely forsaken lately. Black Mirror fixes this problem with a vengeance. I put on the first episode and literally couldn't take my eyes off the screen for the next 45 minutes as my mind refused to believe that what I was watching had actually been shown on television anywhere on this planet. This is a series that I feel easily deserves to be placed next to the original Twilight Zone on my DVD shelf. A second series has been done and I really hope that more seasons of it are coming.

Continuum
This was a new series that I decided to try based solely on its advertising and I was pleasantly blown away but what I saw. Continuum's first season is a time travel series cleverly masquerading as a police procedural drama. The story starts with a protector (cop) from the year 2077 being shot back in time with a bunch of terrorists on the verge of being executed. The trick is that the future society is a corporate dictatorship so, it quickly muddies the waters of who we should view as the heroes and the villains of the story. The second season takes the series solidly into the science fiction genre.

Day of the Triffids (1981)
This was another "scratch it off my list of shame" series as I had known about it for quite some time but finally got around to it this year, thanks to a generous DVD sale over at Amazon UK. This was a BBC six episode series adapted from the John Wyndham novel. While the visual effects are spartan, they are put to exceptionally effective use, as I can imagine the Triffids easily giving children nightmares even to this day. The story is a post apocalypse one that takes some interesting and sometimes unusual turns.

Freakylinks
My nephew Zack, who is sort of our adopted third son, introduced me to this series by asking me if I had ever heard about it. I told him I hadn't, but after learning it was an urban horror investigation series it immediately jumped to the top of my "must find it" list, as I have a real soft spot for these types of shows, no doubt created by my childhood exposure to Carl Kolchak. The title of the series is the name of a website run by a paranormal investigator and his friends who run around with digital cameras interviewing people and trying to film sightings. The series was done by the same people who brought us The Blair Witch Project but focuses more on the whole false documentary aspect of the show rather than the shaky cam presentation. It's really unfortunate that this series is not more readily available on DVD or streaming.

In the Flesh
Roger Domian is a friend I met through Vince Rotolo's B-Moviecast podcast, which is also where I met Eric here at The Movie Waffler. His series recommendations have always been pretty solid with me and, if I'm remembering correctly, this was one of his as well. Set well after a zombie outbreak which didn't actually turn into a true apocalypse, the dead are now able to be treated with a drug which restores them to normal brain function. The story is really about the re-integration of these individuals into a society that is not necessarily all that interested in having them back. The subject matter is pretty intense but this intensity has less to do with gore and more to do with some of the ugly behavior on display by some of the survivors.

Masters of Sex
Another shot in the dark series for me. The first episode was good and the series just kept getting better with every episode. Set in the already prudish American heartland in the even more prudish 1950s, we follow the story of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson as they try and shed scientific light on the verboten subject of sex. You can read my full review here

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Knowing that I am a huge pulp literature junkie, my mom sent me this as a birthday present. The series is actually based on a series of modern books by the Australian author Kerry Greenwood. I can't speak for the novels but the series definitely captures the flavor of the genre quite nicely. Set in the 1920s in Melbourne, Australia, Phryne Fisher is a recently arrived socialite who decides to take up the role of private detective, even as it goes against the wishes of the local constabulary. My full review is also conveniently available right here.  I'm carefully planning the timing of my free one month trial of Acorn TV to be able to catch the second season in its entirety. Thank you again mom.

Orphan Black
This was yet another randomly sampled new series for me last year. The story opens with a woman from Britain arriving in New York City just in time to see someone who could be her twin sister commit suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming subway train. Assuming her identity, she quickly learns she was, or more correctly, is, not the only "twin sister" that she had in the Big Apple. The mystery surrounding Sarah's situation is the central story of the first season and the answers definitely left me hungry for more of her story.

Raumpatrouille
Thanks again to Terry Frost, I managed to scratch this series off my bucket list, which is honestly something I never thought I would do. This is a virtually unknown German SF series that only lasted seven episodes. It dates back to 1966 and premiered nine days after the first episode of the original Star Trek in the US. Thanks to Mr. Frost I was able to watch the entire run with a set of convenient English subtitles. The crew of the Space Patrol starship Orion are involved in a series of standard space based adventures, from first contact with an alien species to figuring out what has gone wrong at a vital mining station. The science is a little wonky but overall the series worked for me on some level. Maybe having worked for fourteen years of my life in a building designed by Eero Saarinen, the same guy who did all the sets for the series, has something to do with this.

Sleepy Hollow
I normally avoid network television. This is due to government oversight of broadcast media in America, which I feel seriously impacts storytelling in a less than stellar way. The reason I took a chance on this show was that every preview site I read all gave the pilot a good review. Since I couldn't remember this happening before, I figured what the hell? The series is yet another urban horror/fantasy series, some of it covering the same ground as Supernatural. What makes this show stand out for me is that it takes the high fantasy route in a totally unapologetic manner. I can honestly say that every episode would hit me with some gonzo fantasy element that would catch me completely off guard. While this series isn't the next piece of great television, it is pure unadulterated fun.

Tiger & Bunny
Another Zack find, this is an anime series from Japan that takes the superhero concept in a new and unique direction. I'm not much of an anime fan but superhero literature has always fascinated me. Tiger & Bunny is set in a city where heroes are sponsored by corporations and are covered by a reality television series that awards them points for their actions, which ultimately leads to one being crowned hero of the city each year. The two characters are nearly complete opposites, with Bunny largely concerned only with the PR, and Tiger trying to be an actual hero. The conflict between these two characters impacts both their working and personal relationships, and it is how this relationship develops that is the thrust of the series. Fans of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns might want to take a look at this show.


Nick Sauer
For more from Nick, visit his site, Fantastic Television